211. Tuning up your hiring process

There is a lot going down in the world right now. Whether it is because of the pandemic or not we can’t say but people are leaving their jobs in record numbers. However, there is a hidden opportunity lurking in this crisis, both for people to get new jobs and for companies to get new employees. So in today’s episode, we’ll be talking about tuning up your hiring process! We want everyone to have the best hiring process, so we consider how to interview in ways that are appropriate for the skills you're looking for and how to evaluate candidates in a way that is respectful of their time and abilities. We try to come up with a model for interviewing that feels equitable, considering evaluating practices such as iterating on your interview process, whiteboarding, querying algorithm knowledge, take-home tests, and more. We also speak about the kindest ways of judging whether candidates will fit in with and even add to company culture. Join us and get up to speed with our take on hiring best practices today!


Key Points From This Episode:

  • Tuning up your hiring process due to the high rate at which people are quitting jobs.
  • How to experiment with your hiring process in a way that keeps interviews equitable.
  • Whether whiteboarding is still necessary and how to make this process comfortable.
  • Asking candidates algorithm questions versus questions about actual features you want built.
  • Different home situations and whether week-long take-home tests are equitable.
  • How to test a candidate’s ability in non-coding-related situations.
  • Thinking about candidates in terms of ‘culture add’ as well as ‘culture fit’.
  • Differences in how employers best prepare the candidate for the interview.


Transcript for Episode 211. Tuning up your hiring process


[0:00:01.9] MN: Hello and welcome to The Rabbit Hole, the definitive developer’s podcast, living large in New York. I’m your host, Michael Nunez. Our co-host today.

[0:00:09.3] DA: Dave Anderson. 

[0:00:10.4] MN: Today, we’ll be talking about tuning up your hiring process.

[0:00:13.7] DA: Yeah, it’s hiring season. 

[0:00:17.6] MN: Yeah, definitely hiring season from – there’s a couple of articles out there in the wild at this point in time to talk about how it’s the biggest boom if you will, that people are looking for jobs. Some numbers say one in four workers are looking for new jobs, this article from Forbes that says, workers are quitting their jobs, they’re record numbers, which is kind of crazy.

I imagine it was due to the pandemic and people feel more safe and wanted to take more risk in changing jobs. We need to figure out, if people are changing their jobs, they’re probably going to come to your workplace and ironing down your hiring process is probably ideal and the best time to do it because you’re going to get the most people ever trying to apply to your job.

[0:01:00.8] DA: Totally. It’s that thing about the Chinese character for crisis being the same as opportunity. This is how you judo flip everybody in the world quitting everything.

[0:01:12.4] MN: That’s an emoji?

[0:01:14.1] DA: Is it an emoji? I don’t know.

[0:01:14.7] MN: I don’t know, that sounds great though, that’s a great idea. We need to find that character.

[0:01:19.8] DA: I don’t know if it apocryphal, is it real? I was mainly saying it as a joke but if that is an emoji then maybe this is a worthwhile time to put that into your company’s Slack, you know? There’s a lot going down in the world so it’s time to flip that crisis into the opportunity with the apocryphal emoji.

[0:01:41.9] MN: Yeah. I mean, this interviewing and the hiring process almost feels like you have to – you know how sometimes, just sometimes, not all the time but sometimes you have to test your new feature in production? I feel like hiring could somehow feel like that. I’m joining the hiring process at Stride and these are our views that are different from Stride but just mean, learning the ropes and how to interview and what questions to ask, kind of feels like I’m doing it and learning it real time.

[0:02:11.8] DA: Yeah.

[0:02:12.2] MN: Feels like I’m coding the production.

[0:02:13.2] DA: Yeah, it’s interesting because it’s like, you want to have an equitable hiring process that is consistent and even for every single person. I think the first question that we’re asking today is like, should you iterate an experiment with your interview questions? Maybe you're learning how to interview as you're going or maybe you have a hiring process and you know it but is it equitable to iterate and experiment with changes so that it’s different for the next person?

[0:02:49.9] MN: Right, I think the only way that one would be able to determine and answer those questions is by collecting the data and knowing, what questions you ask for this interviewee and what was that like and ensuring that you’re very – that you’re aware of the changes that are being made to ensure that you’re being as equitable as possible.

[0:03:10.0] DA: Yeah, I think also, when we’re developing software, we kind of reflect on it. We have a retro at the end that we’re like, “Okay, what worked, what could we improve?” I think if at the end we feel like something didn’t work properly and we have a bias towards keeping it the same so it’s equitable for the next person, rather than trying to improve upon that weakness, I think that’s like a missed opportunity or – I looked it up actually, there’s two characters, danger and opportunity that means crisis and this kind of became popularized by John F. Kennedy.

[0:03:55.3] MN: Interesting.

[0:03:56.1] DA: Yeah, is it a danger or an opportunity?

[0:03:58.7] MN: There you go. Good old JFK.

[0:04:02.6] DA: Okay, ask not what you can do for your hiring process. Wait, no, actually that’s backwards. Anyway.

[0:04:10.9] MN: Hey, I don’t know about JFK quotes to be honest. I do think that if you’re collecting the data and asking questions, being mindful of the questions you’re asking, being equitable and seeing how it resonates with your candidates is probably a really a good thing to look at and look over and constantly iterate so you get the best interview process for your candidates when they come in because I mean, hey, it’s happening in record numbers they say.

You want to make sure the interview process is as comfortable and seamless for the candidate as possible.

[0:04:42.7] DA: What do you think? Our algorithms and white boarding worth it? I think we’ve talked about this before at some point.

[0:04:48.5] MN: I mean, I’m biased, I personally dislike whiteboarding but if you make me do it, like, I’m down. I’m really down to do it. Not my greatest part of the process but not a lot of people thrive in the whiteboarding process, especially if you feel like they’re on the spot, they have to think on the fly, I think one of the problems with white boarding is that you sometimes feel like there is one answer and the right answer and folks may look at it as, “We want to see how you express yourself or what are some things you’re asking,” and stuff like that.

That’s probably something to be mindful about as to, if you are doing whiteboarding sessions, definitely let the candidate know, “There’s no right answer, I want to see how you critically thinking about this problem that I asked you,” and using the whiteboard as a tool for that.[0:05:42.7] DA: Yeah, that’s interesting. I mean, it is tough because for a lot of those white boarding questions, there is a right answer and yeah, it can be hard as an interviewer and separate those two things out but yeah, I think that’s a good point that you want to see how they’re approaching the problem if you are doing that or re-evaluate. What are the skills that you're looking for and how does this interview process or step actually line up with the day-to-day life that the person may lead if they join the company?

[0:06:23.8] MN: Right, I always found the idea of asking algorithms. “Hey, if I had a binary tree of ABCD and you draw the tree, I wanted to do this, how would you solve for that?” I think it’s much more abstracting like asking them the day-to-day. You can really give them, you know, if you have a story on your back log, say I’m just going to use as an example.

You are interviewing at Zillow.com and I’m the interviewer. There is a particular feature that needs to be built or that has been built in the past, you can literally ask that what the domain knowledge and the question, that particular thing and that will be more relevant than finding two notes at a binary tree.

[0:07:07.1] DA: Right.

[0:07:07.2] MN: Is how I feel.

[0:07:08.3] DA: Yeah, totally. The closer it is to a real-world thing, maybe the more heavy-weight it is for the interviewer. Whiteboard is pretty lightweight but we’re all interviewing remotely right now so there’s an opportunity to use other tools like actually to write code or do something very practical, which I guess maybe leads up to the next question. Our take home code tests worth it?

[0:07:40.0] MN: Yeah, that’s a really good question. Often times, maybe your workplace, the hiring process consist of, “Hey, we have this problem, we like for you to solve and you have five business days to do it.” That is a good question is as to whether those take-home tests are worth it. The idea that you know, maybe people out there who do not have five business days to spend on this problem.

[0:08:04.6] DA: Right, as though like we’re already dealing with all of our context being mixed working from home all the time and then adding more take-home problems and things in the mix. That could be a thing that’s potentially inequitable for people who are having more established home life, they have a family and other things going on. Some people may be able to spend all five days on it, some people may only be able to spend an hour on it.

[0:08:35.3] MN: Right.

[0:08:36.0] DA: Even if you try and time box it.

[0:08:37.7] MN: Yeah, I mean, if I were ever given a code test like that, it would be really difficult for me to get it done, for sure.

[0:08:44.5] DA: Yeah.

[0:08:44.9] MN: I mean, Gio’s going to pair with me, I don’t know if I have to split my comp with him, that kind of stuff so it’s just definitely would be a problem and very, very difficult for me to get done. Which is why I think the onsite tech interview is pretty interesting whether like, rather than having the person build an application from scratch, you can have them build a feature on an existing application.

[0:09:11.9] DA: Right and have it be more collaborative and time-boxed, very explicitly time-boxed.

[0:09:18.9] MN: Right, rather than spending five days, potential business days, this is also for the employer too, rather than waiting five business days for a person to potentially finish it if they do submit it, you just have to spend two hours, right? Then you know the answer right then and there in two hours.

[0:09:36.4] DA: Yeah but in the end, the same question that we’re asking before, what are the skills you're looking for and what are the different ways that you can evaluate them that is respectful of people’s time and abilities. I have also seen people who will pay to do the take home code test or take home a project. A friend was interviewing for a product management role and they paid him in cryptocurrency.

[0:10:04.4] MN: They paid him Bitcoin? Got Doge coin bro?

[0:10:05.7] DA: No, it’s not doge. I don’t know. 

[0:10:08.4] MN: No, not those. He got the wrong crypto then, I guess.

[0:10:13.4] DA: Right, wrong choice.

[0:10:15.6] MN: The other thing that I’ve seen in the past, rather than you know, having the onsite tech interview that could potentially take two hours, I’ve seen questions that are kind of like Leetcode where it’s just like, “Hey, I suppose, just do the fizz buzz challenge and you just do it on a window and a prompt that will runt he code for you and if it’s good, you can continue on to the next question.” That’s like a combination of both things, it’s kind of take home but it takes 15 to 30 minutes to solve it rather than having it sit there for two hours. I thought that was interesting too that I’ve seen in the past.

[0:10:49.9] DA: Yeah.

[0:10:53.2] MN: You know, often times, I imagine it’s a little different, working remotely, when we were all in the same office, in the same desk area, remember that day? That was a long, long time ago. 

[0:11:02.3] DA: Yeah. 

[0:11:02.9] MN: I think that if you know, you’re not working with individuals eight hours a day and just crushing code looking at a screen and punching keys. 

[0:11:12.1] DA: Speak for yourself. 

[0:11:13.2] MN: There is a lot of communication that happens that may not be work-related, you may go to lunch with your colleagues, you may have a chat with them, things outside of just TD-ding and even if you are TD-ding and pair programming for eight hours of the day, you still have that non-work banter are going back and forth and I think one of the things that the hiring process could incorporate is how the candidate might fit into non-working situations, right? 

In-person of seeing in the past, you take them out to lunch, right? Everyone loves a free lunch. It tastes so much better when it’s free but the idea, now is the opportunity to get to know someone and like you know, kind of chat with them, see what their hobbies are, what they do and how they interact with other people at the workplace. 

[0:12:04.0] DA: Yeah and I think people are trying to get more creative with this kind of thing because it is important to kind of seeing a different side of someone. Although there’s like still interview related activities, so there’s a degree of fabrication to it. It’s a little bit engineered or you’re still observing somebody that’s not like – you are completely just being shelled but having an opportunity to have a more unstructured conversation where the main focus of the interview is making the person comfortable and you know, seeing what their perspective is and what their culture fit might be at the company. 

[0:12:51.9] MN: Right, also I learned this very recently. People often talk about culture fit and that’s is the opportunity to find out whether that person is a culture fit but the other term that I have been trying to use as well is a culture add, where this person adds to the culture of the organization as well. Just because they may not fit into your current culture, will they bring a positive outcome if we add that culture to the organization? 

[0:13:19.8] DA: Yeah, that’s the diversity part of the equity and inclusion. 

[0:13:23.9] MN: Yeah, it’s like if you’re just thinking about culture fit then you’re more likely to stay in that realm of the culture and one may want to think about adding new cultures into it so that you increase diversity, equity and inclusion. 

[0:13:37.2] DA: Yeah, I just want other bearded people to podcast and enjoy Python and Graph QL, that will be my culture fit. It is a very tight culture fit. 

[0:13:52.4] MN: Very tight culture fit, if that resonates with you, come on to Stride, we got a place for you. 

[0:13:59.5] DA: Also, if you like rest and Ruby and whatever, that stack that’s our – 

[0:14:05.7] MN: Come on to Stride, don’t worry about it. We got it. 

[0:14:07.7] DA: Yeah, that’s fine.

[0:14:07.9] MN: We try to find a culture add here too. 

[0:14:10.2] DA: Yeah and there was an interesting perspective on this like culture or non-technical interviews that I read online where they’re like, “Yeah, we just get a bunch of people together and play Codenames online for three or four hours,” and I’m like, “I kind of love that but then it’s also a big time ask as well.” Oh wow, that’s a lot of time to hang out and play Codenames. 

[0:14:40.3] MN: Yeah, to play Codenames for four, that would be intense, right? Then like – 

[0:14:44.3] DA: They’re like, “Oh my god, they’re evaluating me the whole time,” maybe or I don’t know. I guess you could make them comfortable and make it fun. 

[0:14:53.4] MN: I do think that it might be possible, the reason why it is four hours is because sometime within those four hours, you’re just like, “You know what? We’re having a good time,” and then you let it go, I think, right? 

[0:15:06.3] DA: Yeah or eventually, you’re going to make a mistake and then we’ll see who the true person is. 

[0:15:14.0] MN: Hopefully it is Codenames and I’m sure that’s a game rather than Among Us, where you’re lying to your peers the whole time. That’s probably a good game. That probably is a good game to play. 

[0:15:22.1] DA: Yeah, let’s play a quick round of Among Us and see how good you are at lying to me. Okay, great. No, you’re fired. 

[0:15:29.6] MN: Yeah, so choose the game that you want to play and make sure that it’s an honest one I guess, Codenames is pretty good. I love that game and then yeah, I am curious to see if there are other games out there that one would play. I mean you don’t want to play monopoly either, I think that would cost some single flipping. 

[0:15:45.0] DA: Yeah or anything that has any implicit ties to class warfare or – 

[0:15:51.6] MN: One thing that I find interesting that I’ve seen online is, how does the employer best prepare the candidate for the interview, right? Often times you may just get a phone screen and you’re just going to rapid fire or answer questions the whole time. Another school of thought I guess is, do you send them the list of questions you planned to ask?

[0:16:16.6] DA: Yeah, that’s on the complete opposite end of the spectrum like maybe in between like, you tell them what all the things are being tested or measured in which ways. Giving an itinerary is pretty standard but that’s a really interesting idea like giving them the actual questions or the high level questions that you’re going to be asking.

[0:16:38.9] MN: Yeah because you allow them to sit on it and they can prepare as much as they want on a particular answer and then the employer’s job is to follow-up or follow-up questions that will cause them to make it feel more conversational.

[0:16:54.6] DA: Yeah, there’s still that elicitation part of the interview where like, “Oh yeah, that’s interesting. Tell me more about that, let’s look at that from a different perspective,” but allowing them to put a really solid foot forward. That is an interesting concept and also maybe some questions could be easily researched. I think we already have a question like this. 

We ask, “Okay, why do you want to work at Stride? What excites you about Stride,” and you could look at our website and just tell me three things that you saw on the website or one thing that you saw on the website. If you tell me something that is actually on the website, then let me get a little more excited and I think that’s interesting to let them know, “Hey, I’m going to ask you this, so let’s have a good conversation.” 

[0:17:45.8] MN: Yeah, just like getting them prepped and ready to answer the questions is a really interesting concept. I mean I always – I remember when I had to do phone screens and I’m always breathing heavy and answering questions really fast is not cool. I’m like, “My anxiety is through the roof,” it’s pretty crazy.

[0:18:05.2] DA: Palms sweaty. 

[0:18:06.2] MN: Yeah. 

[0:18:06.7] DA: Mom’s spaghetti. 

[0:18:08.0] MN: Yeah, mom’s spaghetti, exactly. It was just like I am throwing up on myself as I’m in the phone screen and having to mute myself when I do it and I think that this is a pretty good compromise of the two where you have an idea what you’re answering, you are expected to elaborate on certain things but you kind of know what questions are going to be asked, which is pretty cool. 

[0:18:27.6] DA: Yeah. I guess that gives you an avenue for opening it up to different kinds of questions too like there is another suggestion I saw that was like kind of prompting to really look hard at the questions that you are asking or the prompts that you are asking in the interview. There is a lot of things like, “Tell me about a time that you destroyed production and how did that go?” but part of what you’re measuring with that response when it’s on the spot is their ability to tell stories and roll with the punches. 

If that’s part of the job and what you’re looking for then that’s good to measure that in some way but you might miss out on people who have different experiences or different levels of ability of telling a story. 

[0:19:25.7] MN: Right because if you have someone who is drowning in their own nerves, that might not allow them to tell a story even though they could potentially answer that question, right? It’s just like, “Oh, I’m in an interview,” and my mind is frazzling out. I can’t put words together to make it sound like a good story and I think that just puts them on the defense to not only callback a story but being able to elaborate and tell the story to answer that question can be a little difficult for a candidate. 

I mean I think if that was a question, “tell me a time where you broke down production,” was given in a way where it’s like, “Hey, we’re going to ask you about a time in which you broke down production,” that allows the candidate to then kind of come up with the story in a way that they can callback but doing it on the spot could be a little difficult. 

[0:20:18.1] DA: Yeah. 

[0:20:18.8] MN: All right, so these are some of our questions that we have asked about the hiring process at your workplace, I’m curious, are there questions that are out there that we could also add to this list because the idea is that we want to have everyone to have the best hiring process that is equitable and inclusive to individuals and candidates who are trying to apply at your job because as I mentioned earlier, a lot of people are looking. A lot of people are jumping ship and may be interviewing at your place. 

[0:20:50.5] DA: Yeah, what experiments are you running? How are you making your hiring process more equitable and awesome? Let us know. 

[0:20:58.8] MN: Yeah, feel free to tweet at me directly if you wish @googlemike and/or @radiofreerabbit on Twitter to catch us and we’d love to follow up.


[0:21:11.0] MN: Follow us now on Twitter @radiofreerabbit so we can keep the conversation going. Like what you hear? Give us a five star review and help developers like you find their way into The Rabbit Hole and never miss an episode, subscribe now however you listen to your favorite podcast. On behalf of our producer extraordinaire, William Jeffries and my amazing co-host, Dave Anderson and me, your host, Michael Nunez, thanks for listening to The Rabbit Hole.


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